01 July 2017

The Greeks have a word
for it: (4) wine

A range of wines and a variety of labels on a supermarket shelf in Rethymnon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

Patrick Comerford

I was recalling yesterday how there are two words in Greek for bread.

Indeed, there are two words in Greek for many things, and if bread has two words, so too has wine. It is sometimes called οίνος (oínosor ee-nos), particularly on the labels on bottles, but in general conversation it is more normally called κρασί (krasí).

What’s the difference? Do I know my οίνος (ee-nos) from my κρασί (krasí)?

The word οίνος comes from the Ancient Greek οἶνος (oînos). It is still used in formal situations, and this Greek word became vinus in Latin, and wine in English.

The ancient Greeks drank their wine diluted with water. The process of dilution, κράσις του οίνου (krasis tu eenu), or dilution of wine, took place in a vessel called a κρατήρ (krater), as in crater. The Byzantine Greek word κρασίον (krasíon, ‘blending’) in turn comes from the ancient Greek κρᾶσις (krâsis, ‘blending’).

In Byzantine times, the expression «δός μοι κρᾶσιν οἴνου», ‘give me dilution of wine,’ was shortened to «δός μοι κρᾶσιν», ‘give me krasin.’ In time, the word krasi replaced the word oίνος for wine, and so we have the modern Greek word κρασί (krasí).

The wine list in a restaurant is λίστα των κρασιών (lísta ton krasión), a wine glass is ποτήρι του κρασιού (potíri tou krasioú) or ποτήρι κρασιού (potíri krasioú), literally ‘glass of wine,’ but a glass of wine is ποτήρι κρασί (potíri krasí) literally ‘glass wine.’

Some ancient words survive in everyday modern Greek and Greeks tend to use these words when they are talking about certain special things, like wine for example.

The modern Greek word for white is άσπρο άspro but the ancient one is lefkό. And so, when Greeks are white wine that can ask for λευκό κρασί (lefkó krasí) or άσπρο κρασ άspro krasi. If they want red wine, they use the modern word κόκκινο kόkkino (‘red’), but on some Greek wine bottles it is still labelled as ερυθρός οίνος (erythrόs oinos), ερυθρός erythros being the ancient Greek for red.

But be careful. If white wine is λευκό κρασί (lefkó krasí), μηλόκρασο (milókraso) is cider. And be even more careful. While αφρώδης οίνος (afródis oínos) is ‘sparkling wine,’ οινόπνευμα (oinópnevma) is ethyl alcohol.

A glass of white wine in the sunshine at Platanes yesterday afternoon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

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